Spirit Animal

I work in a pretty conservative organization, so I was shocked at our strategic planning offiste when my new director recommended we start off sharing our “spirit animal.”  We were to write down our choice on an index card and then pass the cards to him so he could read aloud all of our spirit animals to the group.

I was delighted with this little task, but couldn’t decide if I should take it seriously, make a joke, or be an ass about the assignment.  A variety of options passed through my mind: owl, Loch Ness monster, cat.  Then someone in the room said, “We should have picked our patronus” and I wrote down unicorn.

The mixture of animals our leadership team picked was pretty cool and diverse:  fox, penguin, Canadian goose, sea lion, otter, turtle, mouse, deer, dolphin, desert sheep, baby robin and duck-billed platypus were all in the mix.  (I said we were a conservative organization, not lacking creativity.)  I was the only mythical creature and when asked to explain why I picked a unicorn I said:

  • “Because a unicorn seems like it might wear rose colored glasses.”

I am a bit of a Pollyanna at work.  I think things are going to work out and that people are trying to do their best and in the end things will be okay.  This perspective is a bit unusual in my organization, so I wanted to pick something that conveyed that optimism.

  • “We could really use more magic at work”

Who can’t use more magic at work?  Pixie dust, Star Trek transporters, a pope who believes in climate change, and miracles all are welcome additions to my tool box.

  • “I wanted something different from everyone else.”

I am an individual.  I want to stand out and be noticed for the things that make me special and valuable.

By the end of the day I really liked this weird exercise.  We referred to our own and other’s spirit animals throughout the day.  We acknowledged the accuracy of choices and suggested modifications.  At one point my spirit animal morphed into unicorn mold.  Something about my growing and sticking to things, like mold.  So the final evolutionary step of my spirit animal is a magical sparkly rainbow mold with spiky horns.  Be careful not to step on me.

What’s your spirit animal?

E-mail divorce

I am going to share an image with you.  I predict that you will have one of two responses to this  image:

  1. Nothing
  2. Your eye will start twitching and you will run to find your own phone just to ensure that those little red numbers aren’t really there… Dear God is that 5,793 UNREAD EMAIL MESSAGES?!?!  The horror….

In case it isn’t obvious, I am in camp 1.  This is a screenshot of my phone.  I leave e-mails unread, voicemails unlistened to, I have no earthly idea what Redbox wants to tell me 77 times, and none of this bothers me.  My husband is in camp 2.  He has a sparkling clean, organized, empty inbox.  He clears up all those calendar items, whatever they are.  Mostly, our relationship is pretty symbiotic.  He deletes stuff he needs sometimes, but I can find that precious message in my heaps of electronic data.

Today we reached an impasse.  We have had a shared e-mail address since we have had e-mail.  We’ve managed our oil and water methods by keeping two outlook accounts where he can delete everything and I keep everything.  However, a year ago we bought a crappy computer, moved to gmail and our system fell apart. Two outlooks was too much for the computer to handle so he took over the e-mail management.  He moved everything into folders I couldn’t search and kept the inbox at a 50ish e-mail limit, thinking that was a compromise.  But this was no compromise.  This was him managing our joint inbox his way, and I hated it.  So today we’ve had our first divorce in our relationship.  6 years after going to shared money, 10 years after getting married, 15 years after buying our first house, and 18 years after our first date I am leaving him and our shared e-mail.  He gets custody, and I’ll have some visitation rights while I move my electronic stuff to my own place.  We’ll still have some shared responsibility, but really it’s better for everyone this way.  Me, my husband, and all those poor messages who have been stuck in the middle this past year.  I can’t wait to watch my 5,973 unread messages start growing again.

Three Random Rants

A few things have been swirling around my mind lately and I need to get them off my chest.  Three rants are below and are unrelated and unequal in magnitude.

#1: The acceptance of Caitlyn Jenner does not mean that the good ol’ USA is like Brave New World or 1984

Okay, folks, let’s chat shall we?  Regardless of how you feel about Caitlyn Jenner, her choices, or the attention the media is giving her can we try to agree on one thing?  Who she is and the choices she made has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the classic novels 1984 and Brave New World.  This Washington Post article drawing similarities to conservative’s apocalyptic views and those two books has left my friends and family sick of listening to me.  There was no freedom and no individuality in those books!  That was the point!  Yes, there were all kinds of perversity happening, but not this kind of perversity, if you consider this a perversity.  Do conservatives not know that those who don’t agree with them worry that their policies direct us into the world of Big Brother and sameness?  Pick another metaphor people!

Phew. On a non-rant note, I really appreciated Laverne Cox’s take on Caitlyn’s unveiling.  At my local bagel shop there was an employee who had manicured nails, make-up, and a husky female voice and she/he didn’t look like Caitlyn or Laverne.  I don’t know which gender she/he most identified with, but she/he was always polite, always had a smile for me, and was really a happy person.  Working at a bagel shop isn’t going to give you the means to become Caitlyn, and that’s okay, so long as people respect who you are on the inside and outside.  I hope she brings us a step closer to this kind of universal respect.

#2  Toilet stall doors that close by default are a horrible design

Okay, I hate walking into a restroom where all the doors are closed regardless of whether or not there is someone in the stall.  Who decided that was a good idea?  Walking around hunched over peering under doors or through cracks makes me feel like a hunchback voyeur.  Make the doors open by default.  Also, this format causes unnecessary lines for those unwilling to be creepy or rude.

#3  Hobbies and avocations are unexpected bridge builders

I met a new client this week who introduced herself by saying, “Oh, I know you.  The owner at the local knitting shop said to watch for you at work.”  Uh, what?  This new client liked me before I ever met her because she knew I was a knitter.  How awesome is that?

The end of random ranting.  I feel better now.

Tickles my Afthead

Oh, guess what made me happy this week? Spring!!!  It’s here! I can smell it in the air. I can feel it between my toes. I can see it everywhere! Time to dust off the gardening tools and start digging and planting and growing. 

Spring means buying flowers and plants.

Yellow Ranunculus
Ranunculus. My favorite spring flower to pet. The dense petals are so soft! This guy will live above my sink in the kitchen and I will love it until I kill it. I can make lots of flowers thrive, but not this one.

Spring means big showy displays of color.

Forsythia! This bush lives right outside our front door and I watch for the yellow blossoms to appear each February. Now it is a cacophony of little yellow flowers singing spring, spring, spring!

Spring means tiny greenhouses protecting the summer bounty from spring frost.

Walls of water
Walls of water hide three tomato and two broccoli plants. Grow little veggies and be safe from the frost and cold.

Spring means tiny blossoms of joy.

Early spring Iris
Tiny Iris. My favorite flowers of spring. First come the crocuses peeking through the snow and mulch. Then the tiny showy iris bloom with their tiger striped petals.

Nightmare of a Working Mom

This Thursday it happened. I was walking from my office to my car reveling in my accomplishments of the day. I’d given a great presentation. I was creating a valuable partnership with our CIO. My curling offsite the day before had been a really great team bonding event. Kudos were flowing. Yep, I was pretty awesome. Then my phone rang. It was my husband asking if I had remembered to pick up our daughter. Our daughter who had finished play practice 15 minutes earlier at school, 40 minutes away from where I was. Our daughter who I hadn’t forgotten in 6 and a half years.

My stomach dropped as I realized what I had done. The other line rang. It was a friend of ours who’s daughter was in the same class. (We’ll call our friend E.) I clicked over. E was calling to tell me that another mom, S, had called her because S didn’t have my number. My daughter was with S, and S was willing to take her home, or E offered for my daughter to go to her husband’s classroom to wait for me. (His name is K.) I took her up on the offer of going to the classroom. I called S, thanked her for saving my daughter and asked her to take her up to K’s classroom. S agreed and said she was happy to help. I then called my husband who headed out to get our daughter from school. All this happened in less than 10 minutes, and by the time I was in my car, 30 minutes from school, I knew she was safe.

As I drove home I felt horrified at myself, awfulized what could have been (my own specialty), and then realized that it was all okay: really honestly okay. The village had made sure my kiddo was safe.

This is the schizophrenic life of a working mom. There are a lot of balls in the air. In one half of your life you are a rock star and in the other half you cut corners. Then you flip it. This week I missed my daughter’s weather presentation and forgot to pick her up. The week before that I skipped out of work two days to help take care of my sick brother. Two weeks from now I’m missing spring break for a work trip, but that Friday I’m skipping another work meeting to spend the last day of spring break at home. It’s constant negotiation, and I am so lucky to have a job and a family situation that gives me this kind of flexibility. My mantra is “You can have it all, but you can’t have all of it all the time.” That’s easy to say and hard to live. I make mistakes. I cut corners. Sometimes I totally mess up. I am way too hard on myself, but I’m working on it. Perfection just isn’t a reasonable expectation anymore.

I wouldn’t trade it though. I wouldn’t give up my job to ensure that I never missed a pick up from school. (Because the truth is, I probably would forget her at some point. My mom forgot my brother once and she stayed home with us.) I love my daughter, but I know if I was home all the time I would get sucked into her life. I’d become a helicopter parent because I wouldn’t be able to separate my life from the most important person in my life. I also know that one of the things that helps me be the best mom I can is my mom network and lots of those ladies are in the office. I couldn’t give up my deep, meaningful conversations about our families in the 2 minutes it takes to pee.

Stall 1: “My daughter was diagnosed with a severe learning disability.”
Stall 2: “Oh no, how did you find out?”
Stall 1: “Testing at school” FLUSH
Stall 2: “Do you have someone you can talk to?” FLUSH
Sink 1: “No. This really sucks.”
Sink 2: “I am so sorry. I have a friend who is a child therapist. Do you want her number?”
Sink 1: “That would be great.”
Sink 2: “I’ll send it before my next meeting starts.”
Sink 1: Drying her eyes with the wet paper towel, “Do I look okay.”
Sink 2: “A little red-eyed, but no one will notice.”

Being a mom is hard. I have harshly judged others for mistakes I then made. I strive to be patient with myself and all the other parents I know because all the choices are hard. All the decisions have upsides and downsides. We all do our best, and then help others when they aren’t doing their best. A working mom, a stay-at-home mom, another working mom, and two working dads all helped make sure my kid was safe this week. While I don’t EVER plan on doing that again I’ll sleep a little better knowing that my nightmare actually had an okay ending.

Being a Grown-Up

Remember when all you wanted to be was a grown-up?  People would stop telling you what to do, what to wear, and how to act and you would be in charge?  Well, I hate being a grown-up.  Some weeks I’m okay with the fact that when I’m lying in bed throwing my booger filled tissues on the floor that two days later, as the grown-up, I am going to have to pick up the remainders of my cold.  Some weeks I can deal with the fact that I can’t blame anyone else when my sweater shrinks, we run out of diet Dr Pepper, or when the back door is left unlocked.  My husband and I use grown-up as the code word to tell our kid she can’t do something she wants to, like sliding down the booth to the floor of the restaurant to enjoy a fine whine.  “Be the grown-up,” the one sitting across from her will snark at the one sitting next to her.  The grown-up will have to haul her up, lecture her, and be the bad guy for the rest of the day.

This week grown-up went a little too far.  Do I go to my friend’s dad’s funeral or go visit my brother in the hospital?  Do I keep my cat on dialysis, at the cost of $1000 per day, or do I let the 7 year old feline we adore die a slow painful death?  Do I go see our family shrink so she can shed some light on familial turmoil or do I make that critical meeting at work that will build bridges and may set me up for my next promotion?  Oh, and the damn dishwasher broke, so I have plenty of time to ponder these decisions while I scrub gross cat food bowls and egg crusted pans.  This morning while I was scrubbing I really should have been working on that $700,000 proposal for work, but whatever.  The manual labor grown-up task won.

I don’t want to be 18, or 23 or 30 again, but I want one day as not a grown-up.  I want to go lay in the hammock because it’s a nice day.  I want to go meet my girlfriends for happy hour and not worry about when I need to get home.  If I decide I want to get drunk I want to get drunk.  I want someone else to pick up my snotty tissues for me if I do the not-grown-up thing and cry about all this crap going on.

Now, I have to stop playing on my blog and go do some dishes, or write a proposal, or call my brother.  Ugh!  Grown-up sucks.

Dragon Float at night

Afthead Mardi Gras – Best Day Ever

I missed posting for a week.  Well, I can’t say I missed posting, because I was at Mardi Gras with my husband and my daughter.  Yes, we took our daughter to Mardi Gras, for the second time.  Now before you call child protective services and have her taken away from me, let me tell you, Mardi Gras isn’t how you are imagining it in your head.  We saw no boobs.  Yeah, we saw some drinking, some public affection, some R-rated costumes, but we didn’t see the stereotypical Mardi Gras.

If you have never been you should find a friend who grew up in New Orleans, or went to college in New Orleans, or lives in New Orleans and schedule a trip.  It is the closest thing to pure fun I have ever experienced.  It’s marching bands, and dance troops, and old guy dance troops, and floats.  The floats are like nothing you have ever experienced.  They are huge and satirical and filled with men and women throwing presents at you.  Yes they throw beads, but also stuffed animals, footballs, Frisbees, toys, hats, costumes and instruments.  There are little kids sitting safely in these awesome ladder seats.  There are bigger kids on their parents shoulders reaching right up to the float, and there are slightly bigger kids running after the float cheering, yelling and screaming, “Throw me something mister!” and normally the mister (or misses) throws something.

Mardi Gras ladder for little kids.
Mardi Gras ladder for little kids.

Yeah, the crap is made in China.  Yeah, the guys on the floats look a little like KKK members.  Yeah, there is a very obvious class separation.  While I can recognize those unsavory details today, when I am at the parade I just don’t care, because it is so much fun.  Do I really want that white feather boa my daughter begged for?  No, and neither does she.  It is itchy and sheds feathers.  But at that moment it was the best catch of the day.  It was glamorous and envied.  Right now I look at the giant beads hanging in my studio, and I marvel that a 40 year old woman (and her 42 year old friend) could have received such attention.  (I did not bear my breasts for them, thanks for wondering.)

At Mardi Gras we stood side by side with strangers and we had fun together.  A lady I’d never met and never saw again picked up a special bracelet thrown to me, because I had a 45 pound kid on my shoulders.  A family who had been holding their spot at Bacchus for ten hours welcomed us to their tent.  We caught beads for their kids and they gave us frosty cold beers.  We shook our heads together when the twenty year old threw up in their tent.  I laughed with the woman next to me when someone threw beads onto her outstretched arms.  She was dancing not asking for beads, but it was a great shot.  We had a spaghetti dinner at our friend’s church for $10 (which also gave us the use of their bathroom all night) and then they sold us $3 wine and beer to enjoy while watching the parade.  Having fun with strangers is even better than having fun with people you know.

There is magic at Mardi Gras.  We had a dragon breathe fire at us, causing a white out in our vision, but not burning us.  Our kids ran up to huge floats blind to their tiny frames and they didn’t get run over.  Doubloons are thrown, and those gold, red, purple and silver coins are more valuable to my 6-year-old than the real dollars the tooth fairy brings.  If I hold them now their clinking and glinting brings back the magic and the fun.


As I was perusing Longreads I clicked through to “The Books” by Alexander Chee.  While reading, I was struck by a need to jump up and examine our household Harry Potter collection and all the doubles, triples and quintuples contained therein.  My husband and I read all of the books, listened to all of the books and saw all of the movies numerous times. Away to the shelves I flew to start counting.

First to my collection.  The top shelf?  All the hardbound first editions of the collection.  (Yes, I know EVERYONE has a first edition of all the books.  Amazon brought them to your door at midnight in Harry Potter cardboard for goodness sake.)  Note the books are neither in chronological, size or color order.  That’s how I roll folks.  The collection is guarded by my hippo bookend.

Shelf two contains the real collection.  Book one and two from countries around the world.  It started when I was in Italy with my husband’s aunt.  The Chamber of Secrets was out and I wanted a memento from the trip, so I purchased the Italian version.  Next my husband purchased the German version for me when he was on a work trip, and a collection was born.  There are copies from Brazil, Japan, Korea, the UK (multiple copies of the same book) and Hungary.  They are not all purchased by us, but by friends and family as they traveled.  My favorite is the Chinese copy.  It’s the one in the paper bag.  Apparently there are black market copies of that book all over China and the only way to know it is authentic is if you buy it in the bag sealed with the special tape.  At least that’s what my dear friend who bought it told me, so it authentically remains in the paper bag with the tape hanging on for dear life.

Harry Potter from around the world
Afthead’s Harry Potter Collection

Oh, that thing on the left?  It’s a slide rule.  Never know when you’ll need one.

Next, to my husband’s collection.  It’s on his most special bookcase surrounded by sports memorabilia and his favorite series: The Dark Tower, Lord of the Rings, and Calvin and Hobbes.  His books are paperback, of course, because he hates reading hardcover books.  I honestly don’t know if he waited to read each book until the paperback came out.  How could anyone have that kind of patience?

Dark Tower, Lord of the Rings, Calvin and Hobbes and Harry Potter
Mr. Afthead’s favorite series.

Finally to the archives, where dusty cassette tapes of the early audio books are stored.  Yes, you read that right, cassette tapes.  I listened to the first five books using the tape deck in my 1999 red Subaru.  It does appear that for book six I moved over to CDs.  Someday I hope that the digital audiobooks will show up somewhere on a device I support.  Jim Dale’s rendition of the series is even better than reading it in my own head.


The movies?  We have most of them too.  I loved the books more, but the movies have strong memories associated with them.  I was struggling with losing pregnancies and I remember sitting in the theater sobbing during the fourth Harry Potter movie because I was never going to have a child who would enjoy these movies with me. Our first date after our daughter was born was to see the first half of “Deathly Hallows.”  My husband and I are patiently, patiently waiting for our her to be ready for Harry Potter.  She shuns them now as “too scary” but the day will come when she sits down on my lap and we go to Hogwarts together, or we road trip and Jim Dale tells her about Quiddich, or she sits next to me and we enjoy watching the “Goblet of Fire.”  I’ll bet you anything that when she does finally read the books herself, she’ll need her own copy, because mommy and daddy will be reading right alongside her.

Final Tally:

  • Sorcerers/Philosophers Stone :: 6 copies
  • Chamber of Secrets ::  15 copies
  • Prisoner of Azkaban :: 4 copies
  • Goblet of Fire :: 4 copies
  • Order of the Phoenix :: 4 copies
  • Half-Blood Price :: 3 copies
  • Deathly Hallows :: 4 copies (if you count each movie half as one)

A mom is born

I remember being a new mom.  Not in a sharp focused kind of way but in a hazy overwhelmed kind of way.  It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me.  This tiny, tiny, tiny person I had been growing in my belly was now one hundred percent dependent on me to live.  I mean, it had been that way from the get go, but all I had to do was eat and sleep and, let’s face it, take care of myself and she grew and did all the development things she was supposed to do.  Then she came out and the tide shifted.  Her entire existence was dependent on me being able to figure things out:  how to get her to take nourishment from my body; how to wake her up to take nourishment, and how to keep stuffed animals out of her crib (because they would surely suffocate her).  I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt the importance of figuring it out every moment.

Not only did I have no idea what I was doing, but upon the birth of my baby, no one cared about me anymore. The metaphor for this was the doctor appointments.  At the end of my pregnancy I went to the doctor every week.  They’d weigh me and make me pee in a cup and listen to the baby’s heart and tell me how dilated I was and how well baby was growing.  Then she was born and it was “we’ll see you in 8 weeks,” but the baby, oh the baby had to go to the doctor all the time.  She wasn’t growing.  She was failing to thrive.  We went to lactation clinics at the hospital.  She got a birthmark at four weeks:  a horrible raised blood red blotch that I thought I caused and knew would make “them” take her away from me.  (I still don’t know who “they” are, these baby-taker-awayers.)  At my 8 week appointment I was told I could have sex again, how to check my IUD, and “See you in a year!”  I did not want sex.  I wanted a shower and a hug and a daily recognition of the amazing work I was doing because my daughter was still alive.

I remember walking into my in-laws house and having my mother-in-law swoop up my baby girl to adore her and not even say hello to me.  I remember my dad, my dad who loves me more than anything, turning to my daughter first when he visited.  Thank goodness for my mom who loved my baby girl, but I know loved me more in those early days.  Without her adoration and attention my loss of self and my daughter’s birthmark would have driven me over the edge.  I was so inexperienced and so ignored.

Now when a new baby comes into my world I head straight to the hospital.  I bring a gift bag filled with “People” magazine, chocolate, Skittles, the new mom’s favorite beverage (yes, I have brought wine and beer) and maybe a little something for the baby.  I walk in and go right to the dazed woman in the bed, who is desperately checking to make sure her pained and engorged breasts aren’t showing, and I ask her, “How are you?”  I don’t even bother to look at the baby.  Besides, the infant is surrounded by a phalanx of grandparents, friends and relatives, because everyone wants to see the baby that’s been born.  Me?  I want to see the mom that’s been born, because that is a miracle too and she should be celebrated.

Gay curious, but not in the urban dictionary way

I’m finding the blogosphere to be an interesting place for book research. As my character’s lives are moving forward they are developing their own personalities. The son of my protagonist is only five, but already I know something about him that even his dad doesn’t.  He’s gay.  This leads me to writing about something I know little to nothing about. I’m not gay. I have friends who are gay, colleagues that are gay, a massage therapist that is gay, but no one I really feel comfortable asking awkward questions about gay love and gay courtship and gay feelings. I’m pretty sure human resources would get involved if I scheduled a meeting to ask my two gay teammates about the first time they fell in love.

Bloggers choose what they are open about though, and through the words of my cohorts I can learn. I’ve been fretting about the coming adulthood of my character and worried about how to handle his early relationships and his dad’s reaction. Then I came across this post on The Gay Soap Box and I was elated.  Here it was.  The story of a girl realizing that she liked other girls, and it was a great bit of writing.  I felt her awareness, her awkwardness, her bargaining, and her curiosity.  It was like I was in that bus with her sitting in her skin.

In some ways her emotions were foreign, but in many ways they reflected my own feelings in early love:  the uncertainty and the awakening.  (I’ll never forget my first lust.  That dumb Jason guy talking about how he only liked girls who gave blow jobs, and at 13 I had no idea what that was.  I did know that I would do anything for him if he would just pay attention to me. Thank goodness he never did.)  In some ways I was even jealous of her story.  At least she knew what undergarments Jen likely had on.  If you have relationships with the opposite sex everything below the top layer is a mystery early on.

Energized by this blog post I started searching WordPress for other enlightening stories using tags like “Gay Love”.  Uh mistake.  Apparently WordPress is not just about words, but about images too.  Thankfully I was on my home computer by myself.  I already knew that I wasn’t a heterosexual voyeur, and now I know I’m not a homosexual voyeur either.  Give me your racy novels, but keep your videos and images to yourself, thanks.  I am a visual prude.

Undaunted I started looking again, but more cautiously.   Nothing yet has spoken to me the way The Gay Soap Box did, but as I’ve been searching I have also been thinking.  Maybe there isn’t a formula for awakening sexual love: gay or straight.  My worries and fears and biases are different from yours regardless of your orientation.  (For example, you might like pictures.)  Maybe love is a thing without rules and without trends.  Am I arrogant to think that I can now write about gay male love because I read a post about gay female love and I have some experience in straight love?  Can I use my own experiences as proxy for homosexual, or even other heterosexual, relationships?  Was being shunned by a boyfriend’s Jewish parents because I didn’t share their son’s faith similar to a man being shunned by his parents or his lover’s parents because he is gay?  I had a crush on a black guy in college and I never acted on it because I didn’t know if he liked girls “like me.”  Can I now empathize with a gay woman approaching another woman of unknown orientation?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that I am thankful for The Gay Soap Box author for her post, because she was brave, and her risky post made me wiling to write mine.  My apologies if I sound naïve, callous or unenlightened in this space.  My missteps weren’t made out of malice or intolerance but out of simple curiosity; I’d like to begin this conversation.